Copyright Watch: All's Fair in Love, War, and The Classroom?

Obviously, we OPOSSEM folk like the idea of the "Creative Commons": being able to freely build on existing, free course materials and using them in our classes. But recent court decisions in the United States and Canada have also confirmed that faculty do, in certain circumstances, have the right to reuse proprietary materials in classes as well under the "fair use" and "fair dealing" customs.

Unfortunately, these decisions are not widely publicized. But copyright lawyer Zick Rubin points out at the Chronicle this week that the impact on our classes can be quite profound, particularly in trying to hold down the cost of class materials like course packs for our students. While "fair use" still doesn't extend to letting every student photocopy whole textbooks, Rubin reminds us that the use of short excerpts from a book, up to a chapter in length, are generally permissible without seeking clearance and requiring payment, at least under U.S. law; the consequences of the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions are not yet as clear.

However, this area of the law remains in flux; publishers are currently appealing the U.S. decision, and it's still possible that lawmakers in both countries may narrow the fair use and fair dealing exceptions as they work to develop and implement international agreements on intellectual property law. And, for unlimited reuse and remixing, building on open content like OPOSSEM's is definitely the way to go.

Thanks to Shane Nordyke for the article tip! If you see something on the web that you think may be of interest to our readership, drop me an email with a pointer at